On a gray low-light winter day, the only thing that stood out on my regular walk were the deep green tufts of sea beets that cluster around a certain curve of the coast. The scraggly plants are always there, but just this once I noticed their leaves were shiny and young…and tender enough to eat? Having planted a sea beet in my planters –where it looked scraggly and out of place, choked out some tenderer herbs, and sprouted leaves that were tough and soapy-tasting before going to seed—I wasn’t entirely certain. But what are the cold, dark nights for except to have loads of time to try new foraged foods (and secretly throw them out if they don’t taste so hot?) So, I picked about a pound of the smallest, smoothest, lightest green leaves I could find, stuffed them in my pockets, and took them home.
Blanching them in boiling water seemed to be key, giving my initial taste experience with Beta vulgaris subsp. maritima. I did this—not salting the water since they are haliophile plants (Isn’t haliophile a great word?) and had probably have absorbed some of the salt from the nearby seawater. The results were promising. The sea beet leaves turned an even brighter green and looked like a cross between spinach and collards with a taste more like the plant’s other botanical cousin: Swiss chard. I ate half the batch then and there with a little salt and olive oil. (Though I did have a moment of panic when I wondered if I’d just poisoned myself…I like to think I’m an intrepid and experienced forager but what if those plants weren’t what I thought they were?) The other half, I saved to sauté the next day and top with crispy shallots.
While I know not everyone can just walk down the beach and pick a batch of sea beets (but if you can, you definitely should…or if you have a garden, you could try planting them the way Alys Fowler of The Guardian did), the crispy shallots are something everyone should know how to pair with greens because they’re so simple and so satisfying.
Sautéed Sea Beets with Crispy Shallots
1 lb. (500 g.) sea beets or other leafy greens
2 Tbs. (30 ml.) olive oil, plus more for drizzling
4 shallots, thinly sliced into crescents or rings
TRIM any tough stems from the greens and rinse well in lots of cold water while bringing a large pot of water to a rolling boil.
PLUNGE the greens in the boiling water. When the water returns to a rolling boil, drain the greens, and gently squeeze out any excess water when cool.
TO MAKE THE CRISPY SHALLOTS: Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallots, and sauté 4 to 5 minutes, or until the shallots are deep golden brown. (They will crisp as they cool.) Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain, and sprinkle with salt.
ADD the greens to the remaining oil in the skillet, and cook 2 to 3 minutes, turning with tongs, or until the leaves turn a darker brown and are coated in oil. Serve sprinkled with the crispy shallots.